I haven't yet figured out quite what to think about carbon credits and carbon offsets.
On the one hand, having polluters large and small neutralize their carbon emissions by having something countervailing done in their name doesn't seem all bad. Even if all they're doing is buying credits from a less polluting outfit, at least it's something...
On the other hand, wouldn't it be better all around if we didn't just offset the junk that's spewing into the atmosphere, but decrease as much of it as possible. Shouldn't we think about decreasing the emissions from carbon-belching plants, not just offsetting them by planting a few tree. I mean, the whole thing sounds too much like hiring a whipping boy. Or those Civil War grandees who weaseled out of the Army by paying for some schnook - most likely an Irishman just off the boat - to take the musketball in the leg for them. There's something just not quite right about the whole thing.
But shaking our carbon jones is going to be expensive, and take a while, so starting out with carbon offsets probably not such a bad idea. And at least the major industrial offsets are regulated and fairly well governed: if you claim you're buying credits, someone can verify that the credits really exist. It's regulated and it's official.
Apparently, there are private companies sprouting up that cater to small businesses and individuals by selling them certificates that let them trumpet that they're green. This office uses AC, but someone's planted a tree. Our executives are still jetting all around the world, but someone's investing in a wind farm. I'm still got my AC jacked up, but someone's bottling methane.
Slap on that little green sticker: kiss me, I'm environmentally conscious!
Trouble is, this is all run something on the honor system, and for all the "legitimate" green certifiers, there are likely a whole lot of bogus ones. (Or honest ones working through intermediaries who may well be charlatans.) Honestly, if you purchase your carbon offset, you expect your green star, but you're hardly going to hop on a plane and jet down to the tropical rain forest to see that the offsetting trees have been planted. Wouldn't that cost too much - not to mention that it would create a big contrail of filthy emissions behind you?
If there's no official certifying entity out there who can pinky swear that these carbon offset providers are legitimate, there sure ought to be.
Thanks to an NPR story I heard a while back for putting this bug in my ear. I don't have the cite, but they were focusing on some carbon offset folks who admitted that the business was ripe for scammers duping innocent tree huggers.